To nobody’s surprise – unless you live in a different planet, or just don’t care for college basketball – Duke Guard Kyrie Irving announced that he’ll forgo the rest of his eligibility and enter the NBA draft.
Irving was rated as one of the best high school prospects in his 2010 class, and some experts even deemed that he was “NBA ready”. So while being recruited, coaches did so knowing that he was most likely a “one and done” player. Since 2000, only Luol Deng (2004) and Josh McRoberts (2006) have been the only other players to leave Duke after one season. Other than that, Coach K has almost always had his players for the full 4 seasons.
Prior to his injury, Kyrie Irving was the reason why most pundits thought Duke would go undefeated. He led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) and seemed just plain unstoppable; Michigan and Kansas State would know best. The kid just took over games, imposed his will on his opponents; both on offense and defense.
Without him (he played only 8 games before a toe injury), Duke rallied behind senior guard Nolan Smith. Smith carried that team on his back and the Blue Devils almost reclaimed the ACC regular season title. They retained the tournament crown, earned a #1 seed and for his efforts, Smith was named the ACC Player of the Year; and rightfully so, might I add.
When it was announced that Irving would be back for the tournament, it was widely believed that Duke - who did just fine without him – would repeat as national champions. If they did that well without him, just how much better would they be with him? In his first game back, it seemed like hadn’t lost a step.
However, in what was to be his best game since his return – a 28 point effort against Arizona – the bigger story was not only about Arizona’s phenom Derrick Williams, but also how Irving’s presence affected Nolan Smith. With Irving as the primary ball handler, Smith was relegated to playing off the ball and only scored 8 points; a far cry from his 20 points per game average.
You almost always want to see a player stay in school for at least a couple of more seasons. However, with the potential of being a high lottery pick, I really can’t fault Irving for making the jump. His stock couldn’t get any higher, even though his collegiate body of work can only be summed up in 11 games.
He definitely has enough upside to be an elite point guard in the league. It’s a very small club and I’d love to see how long it takes before he joins it. I guess it will all depend on what team drafts him.